Students use Fall Break to lend a helping hand

While many students used time off during fall break to work on their tans, 64 students participating in Alternative Fall Break engaged in a different type of work: volunteering for hurricane relief and poverty issues at sites in Mississippi and Florida. The program has experienced a significant increase in student participation this year.

“The movement for action has strengthened,” said Shelly Garg, alternative break vice-chair and writer for The Hurricane, noting that last year’s participants numbered 12 to 15. “The events that have been happening around the world have made people more sensitive to issues and more inclined to volunteer. It’s something that they can feel they’ve made an impact, that they made a change.”

Fifty-four students signed up to go to the hurricane relief site just outside of Kiln, Miss., and 10 went to Imokalee, Fla., where they stayed at a homeless shelter to volunteer their time with those affected by poverty.

“Typically, Fall Break is supposed to be an intimate and reflective experience,” Keith Fletcher, director of the Butler Volunteer Services Center (VSC), said. “We want to help students make a better meaning of their experience.”

Before leaving on Thursday, students met at Stanford Circle with their sleeping bags, pillows and backpacks filled with boots and workpants in tow-not typical vacation gear.

For some students, helping clean out flood-damaged homes was not their original plan for Fall Break. Nikki Aggarwal, senior, was going to go to Halloween Horror Nights in Orlando with her friends.

“The moment I found out they were doing something for hurricane relief, I totally decided to do this,” she said. “I didn’t even think twice about it.”

Others didn’t even feel it was an alternative, rather their first choice.

“I never really considered doing anything else. It’s something I feel really compelled to help out with,” Lisa Maria Rhodes, hurricane relief site leader, said.

Some students, like The Hurricane’s Josie Huffman, didn’t need to volunteer to see hurricane-ravaged areas firsthand, since they were going home to Gulf states for the first time.

Students who signed up for the hurricane relief trip sponsored by UM, however, stayed in air-conditioned tents and had showers and latrines available to them. Much of their time was devoted to helping clean out homes that were damaged during the storm.

“Basically mucking out houses and clearing out debris,” Fletcher said. “Some of them will be using chainsaws-with appropriate protection gear, of course.”

Breakfast, lunch and dinner were provided by the organization and meals during transport were paid for by the University. Students each paid $50 as part of their fee, used to offset the costs of transportation, food and shelter that were mostly paid by the VSC.

One of the purposes of the program was for students to feel an impact within themselves through volunteer work.

“The main goal is for them to get a good experience and help people out,” Ingrid Chavez, site coordinator said. “To learn about how that issue relates to them in their lives.”

Garg, who participated in Alternative Spring Break her freshman year, said it inspired her to become more involved in VSC and in volunteering in general.

“It completely changes your world,” she said.

Alternative Spring Break applications are due by the end of October. For more information, contact

Natalia Maldonado can be contacted at